By the end of this month the United Nations estimates that the world's population will reach 7 billion people, growing to 9 billion by mid-century. Lots of people think the more the merrier. That is anything but the case when it comes to the explosive rate of population poor Mother Earth is having to endure.
How will we feed all these newcomers? To satisfy the world's food needs, production will need to rise between 70 percent and 100 percent according to experts. This alone is a task of phenomenal magnitude considering climate change's impact on weather patterns, a destabilized agri-foods market and today's global economic turmoil. These problems in turn raise questions about how we massively increase food production in a sustainable way, while guarding against malnutrition, and prevent nations from going to war over dwindling food resources?
How will we provide enough fuel to fulfill the needs of a planet of 7 billion people? We know fossil fuels are finite and technology has not yet gotten us to the point where renewable sources (solar power, wind power, etc.) can meet all demands.
Lastly, where do we put everybody, particularly at a time when the planet's total acreage is shrinking, yes, shrinking, as more and more land is covered by rising seas. Millions of acres are going under water as climate change melts the polar ice caps and sea levels rise. Millions of people have already been forced from their homes due to climate change. Millions more will soon be forced out by floods, cyclones, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts, increased storm cycles and other environmental catastrophes. There's even a new term for people forced to flee their homelands due to climate change: environmental refugees.
Here's but one recent example. A series of record cyclones during this decade has wiped out human habitat for millions of people along Bangladesh's Bay of Bengal coast and its inland mangrove forests and deltas -- 6 million, to be precise. Coastal villagers have nowhere to go where they can house and feed their families. So they're rushing to Bangladesh's big cities.
The Bangladesh city of Dhaka was home to 200,000 people 30 years ago. As a result of the flooding, it is now the fastest-growing city in the world and has 15 million residents. Most of the population increase has been driven by villagers deserting coastal homelands after cyclones and tidal flooding. Climatologists predict one-third of Bangladesh could be under water by 2050.
Meanwhile, we Americans should not fool ourselves into thinking that environmental refugees are found only fleeing flooded mangrove forests in Asia or other remote places. Some astute planners believe sea level increases during this century could make much of New York City uninhabitable.
What is strikingly similar in all the literature on food security, fuel security and environmental refugees is the lack of reference to the basic cause of the problem: human overpopulation. Most of the concern over use of the term, "human overpopulation" is raised by progressive human rights or church assistance organizations, who see the "right" to eat, live and freely emigrate when necessary as a human or natural right. They demand money and assistance from developed nations, some of which may well -- and should -- be forthcoming. But the problem calls for another consideration too politically incorrect to utter: human population growth must be slowed. That is why reaching the 7 billion mark is scarier than a horror flick and a whole lot more serious. Until we confront and deal with the problem of human overpopulation, every other attempt to deal with its attendant issues: food and fuel insecurity and environmental refugees, will be in vain.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.